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Cytokines are small proteins secreted by cells, mediating cell-cell communications that are crucial for effective immune responses. One characteristic of cytokines is their pleiotropism, as they are produced by and can affect a multitude of cell types. As such, it is important to understand not only which cells are producing cytokines, but also in which environment they do so, in order to define more specific therapeutics. Here, we describe a method to visualize cytokine production in situ following bacterial infection. This technique relies on imaging cytokine-producing cells in their native environment by confocal microscopy. To do so, tissue sections are stained for markers of multiple cell types together with a cytokine stain. Key to this method, cytokine secretion is blocked directly in vivo before harvesting the tissue of interest, allowing for detection of the cytokine that accumulated inside the producing cells. The advantages of this method are multiple. First, the microenvironment in which cytokines are produced is preserved, which could ultimately inform on the signals required for cytokine production and the cells affected by those cytokines. In addition, this method gives an indication of the location of the cytokine production in vivo, as it does not rely on artificial in vitro re-stimulation of the producing cells. However, it is not possible to simultaneously analyze cytokine downstream signaling in cells that receive the cytokine. Similarly, the cytokine signals observed correspond only to the time-window during which cytokine secretion was blocked. While we describe the visualization of the cytokine Interferon (IFN) gamma in the spleen following mouse infection by the intracellular bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, this method could potentially be adapted to the visualization of any cytokine in most organs.

Original publication




Journal article


J Vis Exp

Publication Date



Adoptive Transfer, Animals, Brefeldin A, Cellular Microenvironment, Cytokines, Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Interferon-gamma, Listeriosis, Mice, Microscopy, Confocal, Protein Synthesis Inhibitors, Signal Transduction, Spleen, Tissue Fixation